William “Bill” Moore plead guilty Thursday for his involvement in the murder of Timothy Coggins.

Photo: � 2018 Cox Media Group.
Photo: � 2018 Cox Media Group.

Cold Case Closed: Spalding Man pleads guilty in racial murder

It took nearly 35 years, but justice has been served for 23-year-old Timothy Coggins, who was stabbed 30 times and dragged on a chain behind a pickup truck. 

On Thursday, William “Bill” Moore pleaded guilty to his involvement in the murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, including 20 to serve. Moore’s plea came six weeks after his brother-in-law was convicted in a Spalding County courtroom. 

Franklin Gebhardt, 60, was sentenced to life in prison after jurors deliberated about six hours. 

Family members of Timothy Coggins embrace after the murder trial of Franklin Gebhardt at the Spalding County Courthouse on June 26, 2018. Jurors found the 60-year-old Gebhardt guilty on all counts in the 1983 cold case that took 34 years to solve. Gebhardt — a white man who was labeled a racist by his own lawyer — was charged with murdering Coggins by stabbing him 30 times and dragging his body behind a pickup truck. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“This has been a team effort from the beginning,” the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page. “We promised that we all would fight this fight as hard as we could to the very end to get justice for Timothy and his family. We kept that promise, finished the fight, and we will continue to stand by and support the Cogginsfamily.”

But Coggins’ brutal killing wasn’t always a priority for investigators. Two months after he was killed, the case was closed with little publicity. 

“At one point they were pulled off to investigate a mailbox that had been destroyed,” Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Benjamin Coker said in his closing argument in Gebhardt’s trial. “Timothy Coggins was just another dead black man.”

The case was re-opened in December 2016 and a crucial tip came in the following March. Even more tips followed and Spalding deputies and GBI investigators spoke with more than 60 people. In October, Gebhardt and Moore were arrested and charged with murder. 

Three others were charged with obstruction, but Sheriff Darrell Dix said those charges related to conduct after the case was re-opened. 

IN DEPTH: Missing evidence, doubts and a conviction

MORE: Old doubts quashed, new ones raised as cold case killing goes to jury

Investigators used a Hydrovac system to excavate a well on Moore’s property, the first time the system had been used for that purpose in Georgia, Coker said. In the well, investigators found several pieces of evidence, including a white tank top, shoes, a chain, and a knife.  

In an emailed statement Thursday, Coker thanked the investigators whose efforts helped solve the case.

“Today marks the end of a long and arduous journey for the family of Timothy Coggins,” Coker said. “My heartfelt thanks goes out to law enforcement for their work on the case. May Timothy rest in peace, and may his family begin to heal.

June 26, 2018 Griffin - Franklin Gebhardt sits at the defense table waiting for a verdict during his murder trial. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The Coggins family could not immediately be reached for comment. But immediately after Gebhardt was convicted in June, Coggins’ niece described the family’s struggle over the years as the case went cold. 

“We never thought that we would be here. We thought Tim had been forgotten,” Heather Coggins said. “To get a guilty verdict? We have been elated.”  

At the time, she pledged the family would be back in the courtroom in August for Moore’s trial. 

Now they won’t need to be.

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